Published on November 5, 2012 | by Mike Carre

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ATP World Tour Finals

After a dramatic Wimbledon and a triumphant Olympics tennis tournament, you’d have thought London had been spoiled enough in terms of top level tennis. However, the end-of-season Masters, which has been held at London’s O2 Arena since 2009, kicked off this morning treating British tennis fans to another week-long feast of tennis between the top eight ranked players in the world.

Unfortunately, Rafael Nadal has had to pull out of the event due a long-term injury which has kept him out since Wimbledon, denying the tournament the chance of seeing all four different Grand Slam winners competing. The nature of this season has seen the proclaimed ‘top four’ in men’s tennis split the four Grand Slam events between them, the first time there’s been a separate winner of all four in the same calendar year since 2003.

Since then, either Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic has dominated the showpiece events, but now with Andy Murray firmly in the mix for the biggest titles too, there is a mixture of mini-battles amongst the four of them, with one having the edge over the other, while someone else has the edge over him.

Speaking of Murray, the Scot comes into this event off the back of his best year on the circuit. Now with a Grand Slam to his name and his London 2012 triumph, he’s claimed two of the five big prizes on offer this season. However, since his US Open triumph in September, he has not been in the best of form with an unwelcome knack of struggling to close out matches haunting him recently, crashing out of his last three tournaments losing matches he has held match points in.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in action during his semi-final with Tomas Berdych at the 2011 ATP World Tour Finals.

Murray has never managed to recreate his best form at the end-of-season championships, only making it past the group stage twice in his four years of qualifying and yet to make it to the final.

He will meet old adversary Djokovic in Group A, with the pair being joined by big-hitters Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Tomas Berdych. Tsonga has had a decent year, making the Wimbledon semi-finals and having match points against Djokovic at Roland Garros in the quarter-finals, before eventually succumbing in the fifth set. The Frenchman made the final of this event last year where he was beaten in a closely fought match with Federer and he has the kind of unpredictable game that can upset the top players.

Berdych has a similar repertoire of weapons with a big serve and huge forehand, and proved at the US Open this year upon beating Federer that he can hurt anyone when his aggressive game is firing.

Group B is a made up of more grit than power, as Federer is grouped with Juan Martin Del Potro, David Ferrer and Janko Tipsarevic. With the absence of Nadal it may look like a serene enough passage for the Swiss maestro but there’s potential for hiccups. Del Potro beat Federer just last month, on his own turf too, as he claimed victory in Basel. The Argentinean has looked more like his old self this season, after years of frustrating injuries, consistently making the last eight at Grand Slams, but just failing short to the likes of Federer, Nadal and Djokovic when it really matters.

Another who falls into that category is Ferrer, who has made two quarter-finals and two semi-finals at the four Grand Slams this year, but continues to lose to the top four at the business end of the tournaments. His win over Murray at the French Open showed his consistent and relentless play can be enough even against the best players, but that was on his much-favoured Clay surface, which Murray has never truly been world-class material on.

Finally, Tipsarevic, the last player to qualify for the tournament, has had a solid end to the season, equalling his best ever Grand Slam appearance at the US Open with a quarter-finals appearance. It should have been even better though, having led Ferrer 4-1 and 0-30 in the final set, only to throw it away and lose it on a tie-break. He does have World Tour Finals pedigree, called in as an alternate for Murray last year when the Scot was forced to pull out after his first match, going on to win one and lose one of his two matches.

This event has proved difficult to predict in recent years with Federer’s dominance intertwined with wins for Nikolay Davydenko and David Nalbandian, plus final appearances for the relatively unfancied James Blake and Tsonga.

So the stage is set, and following Murray’s fabulous year, the home crowd will expect an awful lot of the 25-year-old. However, Djokovic and Federer still remain the top two seeds and with plenty of threat from beneath, it is sure to be an exciting week of tennis in London.

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